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Emotions, Feelings and Contexts: A Reply to Robert Kraut*

  • Robert C. Solomon (a1)

Unwarranted antagonism between reason and the passions is an ancient problem, dating back at least to Plato. Even philosophers who sought to give the passions their due—David Hume for example—juxtaposed reason and emotion and contrasted them as slave and master (or vice versa). The point of a so-called “cognitive” theory of emotion, simply stated, is to deny this antagonism. The most succinct (if not very informative) statement of the cognitivist view is Nietzsche's: “as if every passion did not possess its quantum of reason.” Hume's own theory anticipated such a synthesis (in his awkward analysis of “ideas” as both necessary causes and effects of emotions) while Spinoza and Hobbes clearly defended cognitive theories with the wisdom of reconciliation in mind. The aim of a cognitive theory is not to reduce volatile emotion to cool and calm belief, nor is the emphasis on emotion a romantic attempt to extol the passions and excoriate reason—though that exercise may have its place in philosophy too; it is rather to understand reason and the passions together and appreciate their shared properties, similarities and complementarity as well as their obvious differences and oppositions. So understood, cognitive theories have, generically, gained widespread acceptance; only a few reactionaries in philosophy and psychology still insist on a cognition-free concept of emotion, however backhandedly cognitive concepts might be acknowledged as presuppositions, causal preconditions or criteria for the appropriate labelling of emotion rather than as proper constituents of emotion.

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1 Nietzsche Friedrich, The Will to Power, translated by Kaufmann Walter (New York: Random House, 1967), p. 387.

2 Kraut Robert, “Feelings in Context,” Journal of Philosophy, 83, 11 (November 1986): 642652.

3 Walton Kendall, “Fearing Fictions,” Journal of Philosophy, 75, 1 (January 1978), cited in Kraut, “Feelings in Context,” p. 642.

4 Collingwood R. G., The New Leviathan (New York: Oxford, 1947), p. 6768, cited in Kraut, “Feelings in Context,” p. 642.

5 Kraut, “Feelings in Context,” p. 651.

6 Since the writing of this paper, this enrichment of feeling has become more acceptable, e.g., see Greenspan Patricia, Emotions and Reasons (London: Routledge, 1988). As for the objection that mere thoughts of danger are sufficient to cause fear, I have argued elsewhere that such feelings do not constitute fear unless they also involve an underlying judgment that this is, indeed, a danger. See my “Beyond Reason: The Importance of Emotions in Philosophy,” in Revisioning Philosophy, edited by Ogilvy J. (Albany: S.U.N.Y. Press, forthcoming).

* An early version of this essay was presented in a symposium, with Robert Kraut, at the American Philosophical Association meetings in Boston, MA, in December of 1986.

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Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review / Revue canadienne de philosophie
  • ISSN: 0012-2173
  • EISSN: 1759-0949
  • URL: /core/journals/dialogue-canadian-philosophical-review-revue-canadienne-de-philosophie
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